Big Ten West rivals Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, the red circle-game opponents on the Gophers schedule this season, are a combined 6-0. Those games should provide season-defining moments, as predicted for weeks.
But the other Big Ten opponents on the Gophers schedule – Penn State, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern – are off to mediocre starts. This group was 1-4 last weekend with a loss to an FCS opponent.
It’s only two games into the season, but Gophers fans wanting to be optimistic about the road ahead can say at least half of the Gophers’ (2-0) remaining opponents could be destined for down years.
Here is why:
Penn State (1-1): The Nittany Lions have a solid quarterback in Trace McSorley, but the team is battling injuries and has a weak run defense that Pitt plowed through in a 42-39 victory Saturday. The Gophers travel to State College Oct. 1.
Rutgers (1-1): Nationally ranked Washington beat up Rutgers in Week 1, and Week 2 started out even worse for the Scarlet Knights. Howard, an FCS program that won just one game last year, built a 14-0 lead against Rutgers Saturday, but the Scarlet Knights managed to rally for a 52-14 victory. Rutgers travels to Minnesota Oct. 22.
Illinois (1-1): Senior quarterback Wes Lunt will play a big role in the Illini’s success and has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions through two games, but Illinois’ defense had trouble early on in Week 2 against North Carolina (1-1). The defense held Murray, an FCS opponent, to three points in Week 1, but against much better competition last Saturday gave up 17 points in the first and fourth quarters, losing 48-23.
Purdue (1-1): Quarterback David Blough threw five interceptions against Cincinnati Saturday leading to three touchdowns. Kicker J.D. Dellinger also missed a 28-yard field goal. The many mistakes led to a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter and denied the Boilermakers what could have been the programs first 2-0 start since 2007. The Gophers host Purdue Nov. 5.
Northwestern (0-2): The Wildcats are rated the worst team in ESPN’s Week 2 Big Ten power rankings after losing to FCS Illinois State, 9-7, a week after falling to MAC member Western Michigan, 22-21. Northwestern won 10 games last season and played in the Outback Bowl, but is the only team in the Big Ten without a win after two weeks this season. The Wildcats travel to TCF Bank Stadium Nov. 19.
Even next week’s non-conference opponent Colorado State has struggled throughout the first two weeks. However, Maryland, the Gophers third Big Ten opponent on the schedule, is 2-0 with a pair of blowout victories against Howard and Florida International.
The Gophers are one of eight Big Ten teams with a 2-0 record. They beat Oregon State 30-23 and Indiana State 58-28.